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More charges for man who killed doctor

New York Times | June 20, 2005
By Joseph P. Fried

He is serving 25 years to life for a highly publicized killing, but James Kopp may face life without parole if federal prosecutors have their way.

In October 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was killed by a rifle bullet fired through the kitchen window of his Amherst, N.Y., home. Slepian, 52, had an obstetrics practice in Amherst and performed abortions at a clinic in Buffalo.

Investigators quickly focused on Kopp, a longtime abortion opponent with ties to extreme anti-abortion groups. An international manhunt for him ended with his arrest in France in March 2001.

In a nonjury trial on state murder charges in 2003, Kopp admitted he had shot Slepian but claimed he had meant only to wound him so that he could not perform more abortions.

But the judge, Michael D'Amico of Erie County Court, found that Kopp had intended to kill Slepian and was guilty of second-degree murder. D'Amico sentenced him to the maximum, 25 years to life in prison.

Kopp, 50, is appealing the verdict and sentence, under which he is eligible for parole after 25 years.

Now, federal prosecutors in Buffalo are pressing their charges against Kopp, among them a charge that he violated a federal statute barring forceful interference with people who provide reproductive-health services. If a death resulted from such interference, a conviction could lead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In April, Magistrate Judge Hugh Scott of the U.S. District Court in Buffalo recommended that Kopp's motion to dismiss the charges be denied.

The magistrate rejected, among other things, the argument that the federal prosecution violated strictures against double jeopardy. The federal trial judge, Richard Arcara, can accept or reject the recommendation.

Last week, Kopp's lawyer, John Humann, maintained that the federal prosecution was "a waste of time," given the state conviction.

"He's doing 25 to life, and even if he's alive after 25 years, the parole board would not release him," he said. He said he also thought his client had "no chance" of successfully appealing the state conviction.

Slepian's widow, Lynne, declined to comment.

But her lawyer, Glenn Murray, who was Slepian's lawyer and friend, said that Lynne Slepian "would like to be able to tell" her four sons, now 14 to 22, "that Mr. Kopp will spend the rest of his life in jail."

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